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Austrian skydiver plunges 24 miles to earth - and lives to tell the tale

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 14th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Why do men climb mountains? Because it's there. For record-breaking parachutist "Fearless Felix" Baumgartner, who chose to jump from outer space 24 miles above the earth because he could. Any error would have resulted in a slow painful death, with his blood boiling, his eyes popping out of his head and his brain exploding. But Baumgartner safely landed, breaking all previous records - and he's ready to do even more.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Taking five years to plan, the 43-year-old Baumgartner developed a special hi-tech jumpsuit. Taking to the skies in a special balloon, Baumgartner also broke a world record in balloon ascension. When the balloon stopped rising, Baumgartner began conducting his final exit checks. In his bulky, suit, the skydiver had little room to maneuver inside the capsule and had to slide, feet first through the hatch.
 
With no turning back, the world collectively held its breath as he hurtled through the sky, a tiny speck against a dark sky, plunging 24 miles above the Earth at up to 729 miles per hour.

His parachute opened. Five minutes later, to the relief of the millions, Baumgartner made the highest and fastest skydive in history, becoming the first freefall diver to break the sound barrier.

The event was almost cancelled. The balloon ascent took around two-and-a-half hours, faster than expected. Baumgartner reported that the heating device in his visor was not working properly, causing it to mist up.

Baumgartner's friend and mentor, 84-year-old Joe Kittinger discussed whether to scrub the mission. Kittinger was a former U.S. Air Force colonel who set the previous freefall record in 1960 when he jumped from 102,800 feet, had agreed to come out of retirement to help Baumgartner set a new record.

Both decided to go ahead, and as the balloon stopped rising, Baumgartner began conducting his final exit checks. 

Gripping the hand rails on either side of the hatch exterior, Baumgartner gave a final salute, and fell forwards in what his team describes as "bunny hop," pushing out with both feet at the same time to avoid falling into a potentially fatal flat-spin.

Plunging headfirst through the air, his 70-strong team of engineers, doctors and scientists had previously estimated Baumgartner would fall at around 700 miles per hour in the first 50 seconds.

But he managed to plunge even faster, reaching 729 miles per hour during the first 50 seconds of the four minute, 22 second freefall.

Baumgartner's success robbed his friend Kittinger with his sole record, for the longest time spent in a freefall. But he was clearly as relieved as anyone to see the others broken at last.

"Couldn't have done it better myself," he joked as Baumgartner glided to the ground.

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